‘Reckless’: Commission’s 70,000t offer on Mercosur beef reportedly already decided

Farmers’ groups have reacted angrily to reports of a 70,000t offer already decided upon in the EU Commission’s Mercosur trade talks.

The President of the ICMSA (Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers Association) has said that the reported EU Commission offer of a 70,000t beef quota to the South American Mercosur trade bloc has to be seen as representing the sacrifice of the EU beef sector in general and the Irish beef sector in particular.

John Comer said that the 11 countries that had stood against the offer must now band together and make it plain to the commission that the reported offer cannot proceed; he said that the Irish position was the most vulnerable with in excess of 50% of all our beef going to a UK market about which there was little or no certainty after 2019.

The president described the idea that Ireland could even entertain the notion of 70,000t of South American beef arriving into the EU at precisely the same time as we would be losing our UK market as nothing less than madness.

Were the deal to proceed, Comer added, it had to be seen as a conscious decision on the commission’s part to sacrifice the EU’s beef sector as a quid-pro-quo in an overall trade agreement.

Economics aside, the president said there are very serious questions about how this proposal would facilitate an expansion of the South American beef sector.

This sector, he claimed, is already notorious for its non-existent commitment to environmental considerations and sustainability and also for – certainly in the case of Brazil – repeated breaches of the most fundamental standards of food safety.

It was hypocritical, at the very least, of the commission to be pressurising EU farmers on the questions of nitrates and publicly discussing how overall methane emissions might be reduced while ‘green lighting’ an import quota with a beef sector that was absolutely unbothered by either question – and whose chief concern was “how to clear forests and ‘move’ indigenous peoples so that their lands could be pressed into the most rapacious form of beef production”, according to the ICMSA.

“The negligence – indeed, complicity – of elements of the Brazilian authorities charged with maintaining the safety standards of their beef was a matter of record and it could only be a matter of time before the next – and possibly most dangerous – health threat to consumers emerged from such an atmosphere,” a spokesperson said.

It is now time for Taoiseach Varadkar to intervene – possibly in conjunction with President Macron – in a manner that makes it plain to the commission that proceeding with this trade deal before the final details of Brexit were decided upon and published was unacceptably reckless, Comer urged.

Comer concluded noting that even after a Brexit deal is agreed, it is not possible to contemplate a deal for South American beef under Mercosur that completely sabotages the EU’s indigenous beef sector in the manner that this proposal most assuredly does.

Farmers’ reaction

The Ulster Farmers’ Union (UFU) has also reacted to the reported deal, saying it is extremely alarmed at suggestions that the European Commission could include beef in the Mercosur deal.

The UFU president Barclay Bell said: “The reported proposals, that the European Commission is considering including beef in the Mercosur deal, is a very unwelcome distraction from the ongoing Brexit negotiations.

“Finding constructive solutions to the challenges that Brexit presents should be the priority for both the UK government and the European Union. But despite this, reports continue to circulate that the commission is going to offer a substantial beef quota to a trading bloc that cannot meet European production standards.

“Farmers in Northern Ireland and across Europe continue to produce beef that complies with leading standards for traceability, food safety, animal health and the environment.

Yet the commission appears determined to undermine all of this by making a trade proposal that would decimate European beef production.

Bell added: “The Mercosur states are already supplying up to 75% of the third country beef imports to an EU market, which has seen falling meat consumption over the last decade.

“Offering Mercosur greater access would be a fatal mistake and is something which our elected representatives must oppose,” the president warned.